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Gen Z is the most unhappy generation ever

Years after the arrival of social media, science discovers its effects

Gen Z is the most unhappy generation ever Years after the arrival of social media, science discovers its effects

For the first time since the advent of smartphones and social media, we are able to observe the effects of "a phone-based childhood". Moreover, Gen Z - born between 1996 and 2005 - has recently entered the workforce, so it is also useful for governments to understand their mental state and well-being. The data is alarming: after twelve years in which young people aged 15 to 24 were considered happier than previous generations, in recent years the trend has reversed, with the depression rate among the youngest increasing by over 50% between 2010 and 2019 in North America and Western Europe. Despite the World Happiness Report 2024 including, among the causes of the pronounced depression rate among young people, also income inequalities, expensive rents, and a generalized fear of climate change and wars, doctors and psychologists from every corner of the world are asking institutions and international governments to act immediately to regulate smartphone use among young people. According to experts, the blame is not on social networks, but on those who have not properly controlled them.

According to Vivek Murthy, US Surgeon General, young people are facing levels of depression comparable to those faced during a «midlife crisis». Murthy's statement is also supported by the World Happiness Report, which for the first time in years has removed the United States from the list of the twenty happiest countries in the world, demonstrating «alarming declines [in the happiness of young people] especially in North America and Western Europe.» According to Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at NYU, it is no coincidence that levels of loneliness and lack of friendships among American teenagers began to increase around 2012. In an article for The Atlantic, Haidt writes that Gen Z has a less active social and sexual life than previous generations and is shyer, less risk-prone, and consequently less ambitious. For the psychologist, adolescence and childhood have drastically changed since the advent of smartphones, and he adds that «the new phone-based childhood that took shape about twelve years ago is making young people sick and blocking their path to prosperity in adulthood. We need a drastic cultural correction, and we need it now.»

For the older slice of Gen Z, it is difficult to remember what life was like before social media, how relationships worked (even long-distance ones), how gossip was done, how news was discovered, and how successes were celebrated without the reward of a like. They couldn't expect, moments after their arrival on screens, that social media would revolutionize human interactions to the point of rewriting its rules, making them increasingly "connected" and "active" in the digital universe, but less present in the real one - it's no coincidence they call it the "chronically online" generation. They might have understood it when vinyl records, analog cameras, and "vintage" filters reappeared on Instagram, but even during the pandemic, forced into isolation, they couldn't let go of the screen; rather, they plunged headlong into TikTok, a new platform even more dynamic and engaging. In a charming socio-political landscape strewn with wars and economic crises in tow, for Gen Z comes now a figurative "blow" from science, and finally, Gen X and the Boomers who cared for the Zoomers until adulthood have confirmation that "those damned phones" were the main cause of the woes afflicting them. But the blame, as often happens when it comes to young people, lies once again with the adults who raised them.